Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stewart, Jefferson shine in another UConn blowout win

There's plenty of ways to display leadership. UConn seniors Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart are more of the "lead by example" types and that is exactly what they did in Saturday's win over Memphis.

Although the Huskies were rolling along with a 14-point lead early in the second quarter, there was a sense among the players and coaches that the Huskies were somewhat lethargic.

One of the first signs of life came in one stretch when Stewart and Jefferson came up with offensive rebounds that were more about a relentless effort to extend a possession than their natural athleticism.

Saniya Chong had just missed a jumper when Stewart used her 7-foot-1 wing span to secure an offensive rebound that few other women's college players could have corralled. Stewart would miss a jumper of her own. A pair of Memphis players seemed to be in perfect position to snare the rebound only to have Jefferson aggressively chase the ball down. Given a third opportunity, Stewart drained a jumper off Napheesa Collier's assist. The crowd, which had been waiting for something to cheer about, unleashed a rousing ovation for the blue-collar work from the Huskies' star players.

"We made a few hustle plays in a row and got into the crowd into it," Stewart said. "When you have the crowd, that is a huge momentum swing for us."

Jefferson was thrilled to have a role in the signature sequence of events in the victory.

"Those are the types of plays that we have to make and we can make memories on," Jefferson said. "You can have energy and the team builds off of that. If you aren't going for offensive rebounds, if we are in a tight game and need them, we aren't going to be able to do it.

"Those types of plays definitely bring energy to the arena, the fans love it and we love it as a team."

Jefferson admitted that she was not a happy camper at halftime and let her teammates know it.

"I usually don't do too much yelling but I did a little bit at halftime just saying that our energy wasn't there," Jefferson said. "It wasn't so much the things we were doing, we were getting stops and making plays but it wasn't enough. We were definitely low energy and we can't ever have that in any game that we play."

Stewart finished with 19 points as she tied Tina Charles for second place on UConn's career list with the 117th double-digit career scoring game. She also moved within 15 points of tying Charles for the No. 2 spot on UConn's career scoring chart. Stewart added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Jefferson had 11 points and seven assists. She also became the ninth UConn player with three seasons of at least 100 assists and 50 steals and tied Bria Hartley for fifth place in career assists in the process.

Morgan Tuck, who returned to practice on Friday, missed her fourth straight game as she rested her surgically-repaired right knee.

"It is always going to be her (decision not to play) from here on in," Auriemma said. "If she knows she is good to go, she'll go. If she goes 'I am not ready' I trust her.

"She (felt) pretty good but not where she wants to be and I respect that. We will see Monday at practice, we have Monday, Tuesday and shootaorund on Wednesday so we potentially have three more looks at it (before UConn plays at Tulane on Wednesday) so if she goes all three days then we will figure it out. I would like to get her back, obviously."

Warde Manuel, who was officially introduced as Michigan's director of athletics, was in attendance and met with the media at halftime to discuss his decision to head back to his alma mater.

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Memorable Senior Night for UConn signee

UConn incoming freshman Kyla Irwin made sure her final regular-season home game would be a memorable one.

Irwin scored 13 of her 30 points in the third quarter in a 55-40 win over Harrisburg on Friday night as State College High School rallied from a two-point deficit at halftime.

It was Irwin's third 30-point game of the season and in the last four games she is averaging 26.5 points per game aided by a 32 for 37 performance from the foul line.

Irwin's future UConn teammate Crystal Dangerfield's Blackman High School team suffered its first loss to a Tennessee team since her freshman season as Stewarts Creeks posted a 58-53 overtime win. The loss ended a 64-game winning streak against in-state competition for the Lady Blaze.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tuck thrilled to be back at practice for UConn

On Wednesday night when he was asked about the potential date for redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck to return to practice, UConn coach Geno Auriemma felt like it could happen late next week.

Well. it is amazing how time flies. When the team got together on Thursday Tuck told Auriemma she was ready to get back on the court. After getting the OK from UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle, Tuck practiced on a limited basis today.

"I thought I would try it out a little bit and see how it felt," Tuck said. "I will know tomorrow (if she can play against Memphis). It is pretty clear about how it feels so for the rest of today, how it feels when I wake up in the morning if it feeling good I will be good and if not, then I will be in dress clothes. I am not in a rush, today was my first day of practicing and I didn't do a whole day of practice so to go out there and try to go full go in a game, I will talk to Rosie but I don't know if that is the best option."

UConn will not rush Tuck back into the lineup but if she is good to go, there is a chance she would play tomorrow.

I walked by Tuck on my way to press row before Wednesday's Tulsa game and she had a look on her face I had never seen from her before. Maybe she was just sick of seeing me but she looked extremely annoyed and perhaps even dejected so perhaps it is not that big of a surprise that she is back on the court.

"It is rough," Tuck said, "It is like I haven't played in a long time. I just have to get out there and it felt good to be out there with my teammates. I think when you are out for a little, you kind of get out of sync and it is something I really want to make sure I am doing when I am on the court, I am getting that feel back with them.

"We did some treatments and it definitely calmed it down. I am definitely feeling a lot better than I was a week and a half, two weeks ago."

I didn't get to see the entire practice but UConn was working on half-court offense and once Tuck came onto the court it seemed as if the Huskies scored on every possession.

"Having Tuck back on court is like having three others on the floor because she just solves so many problems even before they come up, matchup problems on defense, matchup problems on offense," Auriemma said. "All of a sudden it is another 3-point shooter, another post player, a good passer, another good rebounder so it is just a lot of things that she does plus she knows but she has a real basketball IQ which in today's day and age, if you can get 'I' you are way ahead of the game never mind the 'Q' part."

Tuck is easily UConn's most vocal player on the court and that part of her game was noticeable when she was on the court.

"You can tell she is ready to come out and be a part of the team, she had a great practice today," UConn senior guard Moriah Jefferson said. She always brings that energy to our team. We need her, she is here and we couldn't be more happy."

Tuck will continue to receive treatment on her knee, probably as long as she is playing basketball. She spent plenty of time on the bike which was better than hitting the pool which she did in her first day after the decision was made to shut her down temporarily.

We did some treatments and it definitely calmed it down. I am definitely feeling a lot better than I

"I don't like swimming so that was by far the worst," Tuck said. "I only did it once, that was the first day that I was out and I got to ride the bike the rest of the time."


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Williams sparks more aggressive UConn defensive effort

Gabby Williams is second on the team with 41 steals, 27 coming as starter
When the season began Gabby Williams found herself in the starting lineup and the potential for UConn to speed things up was rather intriguing.

Williams had at least two steals in five of those seven games before UConn coach Geno Auriemma shook things up a little bit. With Morgan Tuck sitting for two weeks to rest her surgically-repaired right knee, Williams found herself back in the starting five and in her most recent three-game streak as a starter the athletic sophomore has 11 steals.

"Now is the time to work on that stuff and it is fun right now," Williams said. "The games aren't too stressful so we are trying to work on things and get the ball moving a little bit.

"We spent weeks going over our press and guarding somebody 1 on 1, making sure we aren't letting them (score) too easily."

Auriemma has been focusing on defense for about the last 2 1/2 weeks. He not only wants his team to guard more vigorously in half-court settings but also be more aggressive and clog up the passing lanes.

"This group has blended in pretty well and it is good defensively," Auriemma said. "Starting with a couple days before the Memphis game we changed up some things defensively that has made a big difference. We have gotten more involved, more aggressive instead of just 'OK, we will guard you down here, you shoot, then we'll go down and shoot ....' We are becoming more of an attacking team than we were that we were say a month ago.

"Gabby, Moriah (Jefferson), Kia (Nurse) are unbelievable defenders, they have great instincts and they play so hard and it puts a lot of pressure on the other teams. It frees up Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) to kind of do what they do."

Much of Williams best work recently has come on the road. That will change when UConn plays Memphis at the XL Center on Saturday. Williams will have some added motivation to play well.

"I am really excited to play at home," Williams said. "My family is coming up, my mom, sister and niece to finally get to see a home game so I am excited. It gives me something to look forward and I get to show them what I do every day and get to put on some other shoes that aren't blue because mine are falling apart."

The WNBA announced that six players, including former UConn stars Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi, will be featured in the "Watch Me Work" campaign as some of the league's best and most recognizable stars give first-person narration into how they became the players and people they are today. Brittney Griner, Candace Parker and Skylar Diggins will also be featured.

Here is a link to a promotional video for the "Watch Me Work" campaign

The league also mentioned a change to its playoff format. The top eight teams regardless of conference will make the playoffs with the top two seeds getting byes into the third round and the teams seeded third and fourth getting byes into the quarterfinals. The first round and second round will be single elimination with No. 5 seed playing No. 8 and No. 6 meeting No. 7. The No. 3 seed will play the lowest-seeded first-round winner with the other opening-round winner meeting the No. 4 seed. The teams will be reseeded for third round series which will both be best of five game series as will the WNBA championship series.

Here is the Connecticut Sun schedule for the 2016 season. UConn players in parenthesis (based on last year's rosters)
Sat. 14   AT Chicago          7
Thu. 19 AT San Antonio 11 a.m.
Sat. 21   Washington        7 (Stefanie Dolson/Bria Hartley)
Thu. 26 Los Angeles        7
Sat. 28   AT Seattle           6
Tue. 31 AT Phoenix         7
Fri.  3     Atlanta 7 (Tiffany Hayes)
Sun.  5   Indiana 3
Fri. 10    Seattle  7  (Sue Bird, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, BREANNA STEWART)
Sun. 12 AT Atlanta           3
Tue. 14 Washington        7   (Stefanie Dolson/Bria Hartley)
Thu. 16 New York            7 (Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Kiah Stokes)
Sun. 19 San Antonio       1
Fri. 24    AT Seattle           7
Sun. 26 AT Los Angeles  2
Wed. 29   AT Phoenix         7
Sat.  2    AT Dallas              7:30
Thu.  7   Minnesota          7  (Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore)
Sun. 10 Atlanta               1 (Tiffany Hayes)
Wed. 13 AT Indiana           12
Fri. 15    Los Angeles        7
Sun. 17 AT New York      3
Wed. 20 AT Dallas              11:30 a.m.
Fri. 22 AT Chicago          7:30
Fri. 26    Minnesota          7   (Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore)
Sun. 28 AT Atlanta           3
Tue. 30 San Antonio       7
Fri.  2     Phoenix              7  (Diana Taurasi)
Sun.  4   AT Minnesota    6
Fri.  9     AT New York      7:30
Sun. 11 Chicago  1
Tue. 13 Indiana 7
Fri. 16    Dallas    7
Sun. 18 AT Washington 4

Also, here is the WNBA's ESPN/ESPN2 schedule for the regular season with visiting team listed first
Sat. May 14, 2016 Phoenix Minnesota 6:30 PM 7:30 PM ESPN
Tues. May 24, 2016 Los Angeles Chicago 6:00 PM 7:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. May 31, 2016 Minnesota New York 8:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 7, 2016 New York Los Angeles 7:00 PM 10:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 14, 2016 Indiana Minnesota 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 21, 2016 Phoenix Dallas 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. June 28, 2016 Dallas Los Angeles 7:00 PM 10:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. July 5, 2016 Chicago Minnesota 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. July 19, 2016 Los Angeles Indiana 8:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Sun. Aug. 28, 2016 Seattle Minnesota 6:00 PM 7:00 PM ESPN2
Sun. Aug. 28, 2016 Los Angeles Phoenix 6:00 PM 9:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. Sept. 6, 2016 Phoenix Atlanta 8:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Tues. Sept. 13, 2016 Minnesota Chicago 7:00 PM 8:00 PM ESPN2
Sun. Sept. 18, 2016 Dallas Indiana 4:00 PM 4:00 PM ESPN2


Milestone rebound only small part of Stewart's impressive night

There was still 7:16 left to go in the first quarter when Breanna Stewart was credited with the 1,000th rebound of her career but the senior forward was just getting warmed up.

Even though she sat the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, Stewart had 24 points, 10 rebound, five assists and four blocked shots in the blowout win over an undersized and overmatched Tulsa squad.

Just three weeks had passed since Stewart had - by her standards - was not the greatest performance in the first meeting against Tulsa.

"I wanted to play better than I did in that game," Stewart said. "I didn't play bad in that game but I thought I could have done more and that was the mindset coming into this game."

Stewart became the sixth UConn player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and is the only active Division I women's collegiate player to reach both marks.
"It is kind of a big accomplishment that a lot of people don't think about or realize because most of the time people are focused on points," Stewart said. "I think being able to do other things and get 1,000 rebounds, it means a lot."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma summed up the milestone perfectly when he said, "there's a lot more that Stewie is going to accomplish in the next couple of months but this is obviously a great milestone for her.

"I am not surprised when our best players do some great things because  we have come to expect that from them. Sometimes I am amazed at some of the accomplishments that our players reach individually because it is not a normal situation when they are going to get 35 minutes every night, get every shot and everything is geared around them. When they do get stuff, it is more significant, it is not easy when you minutes (are limited)."

When Auriemma informed the media that Morgan Tuck would be sitting out two weeks to rest her surgically-repaired right knee either the Feb. 3 game at Tulane or Feb. 6 home game against East Carolina was a likely game where she could return. Well, it is looking more like it will be the East Carolina game.

"She told me that she hopes to practice (next) week," Auriemma said. "We had said originally it was going to be two weeks. She is thinking by next Thursday or next Friday (when she returns to practice)."

Auriemma said he spoke to Tuck and she said her knee feels very good. He added that without the constant pounding coming with practices and games, that is to be expected.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Geno on Warde Manuel leaving UConn revisited

There's plenty of other stuff to get to but I figured I would pass along what Geno Auriemma had to say about Warde Manuel leaving to become the AD at Michigan.

"When he came in there were a lot of unanswered questions that were floating around the university. We were getting a new president and that was going to be a big change, the whole conference thing was a huge issue when he was coming in. The men's basketball program was in a tough spot; football was in a tough spot. He really inherited a difficult situation and now you look at three years down the road, four years down the road, Kevin has won a national championship and is recruiting as well as any other team in the country. The football team went to a bowl game and prospects for next year are even greater. The championships that we won and the relationships that he has with the coaches, things that we do as a staff that we never did before, the hockey situation that didn't exist and now we are in the best league in the country and playing at the XL Center, it is a different job now than when he got here and he has a lot to do with that. Nobody does anything alone but he set a tone that was the right tone for us and it was exactly what we needed. We are going to miss him. I am going to miss him as my boss and as a friend but at the same time, this is an unbelievable opportunity that you hope comes along once in your life and a lot of times it doesn't so he is very fortunate. I think the job that he did at Connecticut put him in a position to do what he is doing right now, to go back to one of the top four or five athletic programs in the country.

"I talked to him before we left a little bit. When President Herbst hired Warde, she called him a rock star if I remember correctly that was the term she used. Some rock stars fizzle out and some get bigger and he got bigger."

UConn turning up the pressure

In the last two games UConn has 37 steals which is the most in consecutive games in program history since finishing with 39 in wins over Holy Cross and Hartford during the 2009-10 season. What might be even more impressive is how every player seemingly has had a hand in wreaking havoc as eight of the 11 available players have recorded at least one game with multiple steals.

As most things which occur at UConn, this is not a coincidence. In recent weeks UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been pushing his players to be more aggressive when it comes to tipping and steals passes.

"These last three games it has been more of a defensive philosophy," Auriemma said. "We just made a couple of adjustments and changed some things defensively."

If UConn maintains its current pace and plays the maximum 39 games this season, it would finish with 477 steals which would tie the program record set 1997-98 season.

Here's the player by player breakdown over the last two games
Player                     UCF-SMU-Total
Moriah Jefferson        2      6        8
Kia Nurse                   5      2        7
Gabby Williams         3      4        7
Breanna Stewart         3      3        6
Saniya Chong             2      1        3
Napheesa Collier        0      2        2
Courtney Ekmark       2      0        2
Katie Lou Samuelson 2      0        2

Maybe the third time is the charm for Nurse as she is a finalist for the Golden Horseshoe Award for the third year in a row.

Nurse did not win the award in each of the last two seasons although there is a pretty good chance that somebody in her family will bring home the award given to the premier athlete in Hamilton, Ontario since her brother Darnell, a defenseman for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, is a finalist along with rugby star Cindy Nelles.

The award will be presented on Feb. 25.

Report: UConn's Manuel to be named AD at Michigan

Just made my way from Dallas to Tulsa and of course the big news are the reports of Warde Manuel taking the job as the athletic director at Michigan.

While I am sure we will bring up the subject of his boss leaving UConn later on today when UConn plays at Tulsa, Auriemma did weigh in on his relationship with Manuel after Saturday's game at SMU.

"My relationship with Warde professionally is as good if not better than any relationship I've ever had with any AD," Auriemma said. "My relationship with him personally is as good if not better than any relationship I've ever had with any AD. I think he's done a phenomenal job with the coaches. Where we were to where we are right now and he might still be our AD for the next 10 years. Whether it is the one people are talking about, Michigan, or some place else, he is always going to be in the news. His name is always going to be up there and we should hope that it is because that would mean he is really good at what he does and people want him. If we have an AD or coach that nobody wants than we should be thinking 'maybe this guy or this woman is not that good.' So to sit there and say we are disappointed if his name comes up ...

"I look at it as everybody has to do what's in the best interest for them, their family, their future, their careers.  All the people that Warde as our AD should be happy if he stays and they should be happy if he goes. I personally really enjoy his company and really enjoy what he has meant to our program."

Monday, January 25, 2016

UConn's Stewart, 5 former Huskies finalists for U.S. Olympic team

There was a rather sizeable UConn contingent among the 25 players named as finalists for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.

Breanna Stewart is the only active college player on the list of finalists while former Huskies Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi are also on the list of finalists. Connecticut Sun star Chiney Ogwumike is also a candidate to make the Olympic squad.

"Naming the Olympic Team finalists is another step in our selection process," said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director and chair of the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee in the release sent out by USA Basketball. "Because of the quality and talent in the USA National Team pool, every time we pare the list it is a difficult task. Yet, we eventually have to get down to a 12-member team, so we conscientiously look at the present goal of winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games with an eye to sustaining our success in the future. This list of finalists is a mix of veterans, youth, international savvy and USA Basketball experience.

"What adds to the challenge of picking a team is the devotion and commitment all of our athletes have to our USA National Team and representing their country, especially given the year-round play many of them have in the WNBA and on overseas teams."

"I think the committee has a tough decision ahead of it," UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma. "When I look at this list of athletes, we could split them down the middle and have two very competitive teams. We have a great mix of gold medalists and players who are hungry to play in their first Olympics. There is versatility at all positions. Our posts are the strongest we've seen in years, we have guys who can shoot, guys who can defend, and I'm just happy I don't have to make the decision as to who will be playing in Rio."

The next step in the preparation process is a training camp held at UConn from Feb. 21-23.

Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne, Candice Dupree, Sylvia Fowles , Brittney Griner,, Briann January, Jantel Lavender, Kayla McBride, Angel McCoughtry, Nnemkadi Ogwumike Candace Parker, Danielle Robinson, Odyssey Sims, Courtney Vandersloot  and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) are also finalists.

Every member of the U.S. team which won the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championships remain in contention for a spot on the Olympic team while the only members of the 2012 Olympic team not in contention to make this year's squad are former UConn stars Swin Cash and Asjha Jones.

UConn/ESPN working on streaming issues

Although Saturday's game against SMU was supposed to be streamed on ESPN3 outside the SNY broadcast area as is the case with all the UConn women's basketball games televised on SNY, that was not the case.

I was altered to the fact that the SMU game wasn't listed on ESPN3 games being streamed on Saturday. I checked in with the UConn folks about an hour before the game. They reached out to the programming people at ESPN and were told that with all the weather issues at the time, it might be difficult to get the game up in time.

There has been plenty of communication between UConn athletic department personnel and those in the programming department at ESPN since Saturday with Neil Eskin, UConn's Senior Associate Director of Athletics, taking the lead on UConn's end. UConn has been assured that this is an isolated incident and all future SNY games will be available on ESPN3 (unless you live in the SNY broadcast area).

Wednesday's Tulsa game is not currently on the list of games carried on ESPN3 on Wednesday night but earlier today UConn received confirmation from ESPN that the Tulsa game and all the other games shown on SNY or any of the ESPN stations will be available on ESPN3.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Milestone abound for UConn seniors Jefferson and Stewart

It wasn't a bad day at the office for UConn seniors Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart.

All Jefferson did in her final collegiate game in her native Texas was score a game-high 19 points. She also had six assists and six steals. She moved by Maya Moore and Pam Webber and into sixth place on the career assists list at UConn and passed Svetlana Abrosimova in career steals. Jefferson is not only the fourth Husky with at least 300 steals but only Jefferson, Moore and Jen Rizzotti have at least 500 assists and 300 steals.

"Every time I talk to you guys I learn something new, I am just figuring that out," Jefferson said. "It is exciting to be able to come here and do some of the things that those guys have done, it is really satisfying."

Stewart narrowly missed becoming the first UConn women's player  to dunk in a game. She also fell one blocked shot shy of former teammate Kiah Stokes' program record of 10 blocks. Stewart joins Kara Wolters as the only UConn players with four straight 50-block seasons and had she played in the fourth quarter, there's a very good chance she would have become the fourth player in NCAA Division I women's basketball history with a quadruple double as she finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, nine blocks and no turnovers. She also moved three rebounds shy of 1,000 which is an accomplishment reached by only five other UConn players. When she gets there she will join Tina Charles, Moore and Lobo as the only Huskies with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
"Getting 1,000 rebounds, it is a bigger honor than the points just because rebounds you have to go after and sometimes points just come to you and it is an effort thing," Stewart said.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma addressed Stewart being on the verge of 1,000 rebounds after the SMU game.

"People do things because they want to," Auriemma said. "I have always been a big proponent of that. If a kid wants to get 1,000 rebounds, they will get them if they play enough minutes. I would say the biggest thing is you have to want to and Stewie, she wants to and she can. There are a lot of people who can be great rebounders but they don't want to be. It is hard, rebounding is hard work it doesn't just happen. Stewie can impact the game anywhere like she did today, blocks, rebounds, assists, make shots, make 3s, she can do everything on the basketball court so if she didn't get 1,000 rebounds I would say that she just didn't want to so the fact that she is going to do it, I am not surprised."

A couple of other numbers worthy of note:

UConn had 24 assists giving them 80 over the last three games. Since the start of the 1995-96 season it is only the sixth time the Huskies had at least 80 assists in a three-game span.

Also, a crowd of 3,732 turned out for the SMU game which is almost twice as many as the Mustangs drew in their first three American Athletic Conference home games. Taking things one step further, UConn has played five road AAC games and in the 15 conference home games not involving UConn a total of 13,206 fans were in attendance at Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, SMU and South Florida games while the five UConn games drew 16,506.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Auriemma weighs in on future of his boss

Others in Geno Auriemma's situation might opt to take the high road when asked questions about his boss potentially heading to greener pastures. However, side stepping questions is not Auriemma's way. After today's win over SMU he was asked to weigh in on current UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel who is rumored to be at the top of the short list to become the new AD at Michigan.

What follows is what Auriemma had to say about Manuel and the whole Power 5 banter.

"I try not to get myself involved in all of that stuff. I wish I had a dollar for every idiot who thinks Warde is the reason we are not in the Power 5 (conference). You can't even find the words to describe how idiotic that is. My relationship with Warde professionally is as good if not better than any relationship I've ever had with any AD. My relationship with him personally is as good if not better than any relationship I've ever had with any AD.

"I think he's done a phenomenal job with the coaches where we were to where we are right now and he might still be our AD for the next 10 years. Whether it is the one people are talking about, Michigan, or some place else, he is always going to be in the news. His name is always going to be up there and we should hope that it is because that would mean he is really good at what we does and people want him. If we have an AD or coach that nobody wants than we should be thinking 'maybe this guy or this woman is not that good.' So to sit there and say we are disappointed if his name comes up ... I look at it as everybody has to do what's in the best interest for them, their family, their future, their careers and all the people that Warde is our AD should be happy if he stays and they should be happy if he goes. I personally really enjoy his company and really enjoy what he has meant to our program. Beyond that, this whole Power 5 stuff, people are out of their minds on a lot of this stuff. I wish people would understand that it is bigger than any of us."

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Stewart's impressive game almost featured her first dunk at UConn

About the only thing missing during the interviews following Saturday's 90-37 win over SMU was somebody imitating the late Don Adams' money line "they missed it by that much" during his time playing the role of Mexwell Smart on Get Smart.

With 2:23 left in the third quarter Breanna Stewart was already threatening to post the first quadruple double in UConn women's basketball history when she grabbed a missed jumper by Moriah Jefferson and made a two-handed attempt to slam the ball home.

Stewart's first dunk attempt in a game at UConn ended with the rim rattling and Stewart running up the floor with a huge smile on her face.

"I saw the ball coming off the rim and I was going in to put it back in," Stewart said. "I figured the opportunity was there so I might as well try it. It was close but I didn't have a great control of the ball but I think to even see that, it will be nice for the next time.
"When you hear the crowd gasp like that and the rim rattled a little bit and you don't hear that in a women's game. I think that raised some eyebrows and it was awesome.

"It is something, it is not extremely important to dunk a basketball or anything like that but if I can do it in a game it would be cool because it would do a lot for women's basketball and it would be a cool experience. It is not like I am dying to do it.

Stewart finished with 15 points, a career-high nine blocks to go with seven assists, three steals and no turnovers even though she did not play in the fourth quarter. UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma said Stewart "put on a nice show for the fans."

It was almost a historic one as she narrowly missed becoming the first UConn women's player to dunk in a game.

"She was proud of herself," Auriemma said. "She was happy with herself. Usually when she misses a layup or something, she tries to avoid eye contact for the next couple of possessions because she knows that I can't stand that she misses a layup but (after) this one, she made sure to look over and held (eye) contact with me all the way up the floor. I thought she was going to trip over somebody. I wanted to call a timeout and say, 'get over yourself.'"
The reality is Auriemma and all of his staff members were smiling just as much as Stewart for the next several moments.
"It was so close," said Moriah Jefferson, who had a game-high 19 points. "If she would have made it, I probably would have run off the court and it would have been over - nobody would have saw me again.

"It is just fun. Anytime you are on the court when something like that happens, if you see the next couple of plays we were kind of out of it. I don't even know what we were doing after that, we were really just focusing on that play but those are the type of memories that you are going to remember fro a long time so I am excited to be on the court when that happened."

UConn spreading the wealth

Since Geno Auriemma's arrival at UConn back in 1985 he has always valued players who can pass the ball.

This year's team certainly fits the bill when it comes time to racking up the assists. UConn has 56 assists in the last two games with 24 more today against SMU,  it would mark just the seventh time since the start of the 1995-96 season that the Huskies had at least 80 assists in three consecutive games.

"You never know who is going to have how many points because the ball is always moving, each game somebody is doing something different so it is always great when you have a team that can share the ball," said UConn senior guard Moriah Jefferson, who has a team-high 88 assists.
Here is the breakdown of three-game stretches where UConn has at least 80 assists

Oregon 30, BU 26, St. Bonaventure 27=83
Memphis 24, USF 25, Temple 31=80
Temple 31, Cincinnati 25, SMU 31=87
Charleston 32, Texas A&M 27, Wake Forest=82
Wake 28, Tennessee 20, Georgetown 33=81
Notre Dame 28, St. John's 20, Quinnipiac 34=82
NC State 25, Iona 32, California 31=88
Iona 32, California 31, Pitt 28=91
California 31, Pitt 28, Georgetown 22=81

UConn's Jefferson excited about final trip to Texas as a Husky

Maybe there were a few raised eyebrows when Moriah Jefferson, who grew up only about 20 miles outside of Dallas, opted to make history by becoming the first Texas native signed by UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Jefferson, rated as the top guard nationally in her class, could have gone to Texas A&M, Baylor or even Texas and prospered. However, as Jefferson prepares to play a game in her home state for the final team as a Husky, she has no regrets.

"I had a pretty good relationship with Texas A&M and Baylor, they were in my top three and those were two schools that I was around from about eighth grade because they were so close. It was tough to make a decision to come this far instead of staying home but it was one that me and my family decided was the best and I was happy with the decision that I made."

With Southern Methodist and Houston being conference mates as well as having non-conference road games against Texas A&M and Baylor during her time at UConn, Jefferson has been able to play more games in Texas than if she had arrived a decade earlier.

"It is exciting," Jefferson said. "This is the last time that I will be able to do that, go back to Dallas in a UConn jersey so it will be exciting to go out and play in front of my family and friends."

Jefferson was hoping to have enough time to head back to her Glenn Heights neighborhood to see friends and family members but also check in on people who were impacted by recent storms that destroyed some homes and severely damaged so many others.

"It is right around the corner from my house so if I get a chance to go home I will get a chance to go see some of those guys to see some of the damage and how they fixed it, they are doing a nice job of rebuilding the area so far so it will be nice to get back thee and see that," Jefferson said.

Jefferson is beginning her final semester of college and much of her academic duties will center around a thesis on the positive impact of sports on youngsters as part of her individualized major.

"Where I am from, the kids are playing sports and they are in a structured setting and they can keep out of trouble," Jefferson said. "When they aren't playing sports, I hear a lot of my friends get in trouble and some have been killed. I really wanted to go in and really take a look at backgrounds of what happens when you are in a sports setting."


Friday, January 22, 2016

UConn target Lexi Gordon moving quickly in recruiting process

In recent years my trip to Texas to cover the UConn women's basketball team often times would include a stop at a local high school to see a recruiting target play.

It was there where I interviewed Moriah Jefferson for the first time and last year I checked out the game between Lauren Cox and Natalie Chou, now both headed to Baylor.

Well, tonight I made it to Southlake Carroll High School to see Lexi Gordon in action. There will be much more on my interview with the LD Bell High School wing in the coming days, but with plenty of action on social media about Gordon's decision to narrow her list of schools to Baylor, Texas, Texas Christian (where both of her parents played basketball) and UConn I figured I would provide some sort of an update from my nearly nine-minute interview with the extremely personable Gordon.

"I actually thought I was going to go longer into the recruiting process but I had a really good feeling about (her final four) and I wanted to let them know," Gordon said. "I called all the other coaches who were recruiting me and that was a big step. People's feelings mean a lot to me so it was hard to call coaches but all of them we really nice wishing me best and I wished them the best as well."

There are recruits who love the idea of being recruited by UConn more than seriously considering going there. I would put Cox, A'ja Wilson and Erica McCall in that category. Gordon said that is not the case and she will seriously consider leaving Texas and head to UConn if she deems that to be the best fit for her. This process will not be a drawn out one as Gordon said she'd like to make the decision after her high school season is over and before the AAU season gets rolling.

Gordon visited UConn over the weekend and sat behind the bench in Saturday's win over Temple. She returned home with a scholarship offer and here's some of what she had to say about that.

"It was a blessing. I was really proud and excited to get an offer from Connecticut just how successful of a program it is," Gordon said. "When it did happy, I was very excited.

"It was incredible and it opened my eyes. When you go there, you know how successful they are and you would think that they are just a bunch of robots and they would be kind of stuck up but they were really nice people, they are all genuine and all family orientated. It was a really fun experience that my family really enjoyed as well.

"They played a really good game, Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) played incredible that day and you could tell that the kids love each other because even on the bench with their teammates, I know they were having fun. It was just a really good environment to be in."

Gordon had 22 of her team's 27 points in a 40-27 loss to Southlake Carroll with UConn coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey in attendance.

"They told me they were coming," Gordon said. "I love both of them. They are both nice people and I enjoy being around them. Even though it might not be the best outcome in the game, it was really special to have them watching."

Auriemma and Dailey headed straight from the high school game to check out the NBA game between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

For those wondering, Gordon plans to be in attendance when UConn plays at SMU tomorrow.

Former UConn recruit Boykin lands at Penn State

Penn State has proven to be a pretty nice landing spot for former UConn guard Brianna Banks and now De'Janae Boykin is following the same path.

Boykin was the third member of the highly-touted freshman class but she left UConn before ever playing a game. Her father Jeff confirmed to me via a direct message on Twitter that De'Janae is at Penn State.

Boykn, a 6-foot-2 forward, will be eligible to play following the conclusion of the fall, 2016 semester and after the 2016-17 will have three full seasons of eligibility remaining.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Butler starting to find her game at UConn

A couple of things took place at Tuesday's practice involving Natalie Butler that caught my eye.

First, Butler took the court with nothing on her left hand, wrist or thumb. There was no tape, no splint, nothing limiting the sophomore center's range of motion. Then in a drill, I saw Butler aggressively post up in perfect position to catch, shoot and score. However when the ball landed in her hands, Butler didn't even turn and look at the basket. Acting as if it was a hot potato, Butler fired a pass to a closely-guarded Breanna Stewart on the perimeter.

I brought up both topics with Butler after Tuesday's practice. I especially wanted to know if there was a time when she took off the splint and wanted to take her frustrations out on the protective unit she has been wearing for what much seem like an eternity to her.

"(Monday) during practice I got frustrated because the ball kept bouncing off of it and I had a lot of tape so I ripped it off and just threw it," Butler said. "I was so mad so I kind of had that reaction of 'I am not playing with this thing.' I was cleared so I was allowed to do that. You have to get adjusted to it again because I have mobility with the splint, there was a splint underneath my tape so it was restricted, it is weird being able to catch the ball, it is weird being able to shoot left handed with motion and mobility so it is going to be an adjustment but I happy that it is finally out."

Butler was a double-double machine as a freshman at UConn which made her quick pass to Stewart when she was in perfect in position to score in the lane somewhat surprising to me.

"One thing for me is I try to be a good teammate, I want to get teammates open and I want to get open shots," Butler said. "In that case, that was not a smart decision because she was covered and I had a wide open baseline layup. It is one of those things where you have to make a smarter decision on the court.
"Getting that feel, it is completely different playing with these guys. Last year I played more a defensive role (in practice) so being on offense, playing with them in games, it is an adjustment. It is reading those situations, when do you pass it? When do you shoot? When is it your time to go 1 on 1? It is just learning and it is going to come with time. You can see other players go through it and improve like the freshmen who can in last year.

"The way I was raised with basketball is if you are in the paint you score and that is what Coach (Marisa) Moseley, Coach (Chris) Dailey and Coach Geno say all the time. I know that and the thing is that when you are being triple teamed, double teamed or you have two big post players on you, you know they are collapsing inside and that is when you kick it outside and you are opening things up for the offense, once it passes inside and you score, you know they are going to collapse you are have to kick it out to the open 3 and if they get rushed at, you are wide open in the post so it is like a give and take system and you have to realize that."

If you take away the South Florida game on Jan. 10 when she only played the final 31 seconds, Butler is averaging 9.3 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting 62.5 percent. While those numbers pale in comparison to the 13.9 points and 13.3 rebounds Butler averaged as a freshman with the Hoyas, she has done enough to think she has a bright future at UConn. Her best effort came in last night's win over Central Florida as Butler, who had not scored more than 11 points in any game with the Huskies, had 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting. She also had six rebounds and three assists.
With starting forward Morgan Tuck set to miss the rest of the game this month as she rests her surgically-repaired right knee, this is the best time for Butler to shake off some of her rust and make an impact with the Huskies.
"It is a mindset and I think right now, it is mind over matter more than anything else," Butler said. "One day at a time get the train going, try to get back on track. It is a special feeling and I want to be a part of what they are doing. I definitely feel like there is a role for me and I just have to continue working."


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

UConn's latest streak flies under the radar

It just seems like a year or two ago when I made the drive to New Jersey for the UConn women's basketball team's date with destiny.

The Huskies played at Seton Hall with a chance to match the NCAA Division I women's basketball record set by Louisiana Tech from 1980-82 with their 54th win a row. Some local television stations sent news reporters on the road to document the history-making event when the Huskies won 53-48 on Jan. 15, 2003.

Well, tonight was UConn's 54th win a row and I don't recall seeing one television station in the house, not one member of the national media made it to the XL Center as UConn matched the Louisiana Tech streak. I guess that is what happens when the Huskies already have winning streaks of 90 and 70 games. With a win on Saturday at Southern Methodist, UConn will own the three longest Division I women's basketball streaks during the NCAA era.

Several questions were asked of UConn coach Geno Auriemma in the post-game press conference before I brought the subject up to Auriemma.

While he is not a fan of discussing winning streaks, he spoke for almost five minutes about it.

"I used to get stat sheets and all of that stuff on my desk now I have to find them at school so I don't really know all that stuff anymore," Auriemma said. "Now what's the big deal? I'll bet there is a feeling that when we get to the 80s, we will take it serious so I really don't pay that much attention to that kind of stuff.

"I remember when Louisiana Tech won all of those games but there are a lot more good teams than there were back then. There is a lot more parity when there was back then. It may not be evident if you put us in the mix and you have to keep your eye on the bigger prize than how many in a row."

There will be people who scoff at Auriemma's words especially when his Huskies followed up a 104-49 win over Temple with tonight's 106-51 victory over UCF.

"If you are Notre Dame, how many would you have won if we weren't on the schedule?" Auriemma said. "How many national championships they might have won if we weren't on the schedule so there are lots of teams out there that 'if this, if that' would be in the same position that we are in but I do think it is a little bit harder. I thought that year when we won 70, that was really hard. I wasn't counting them down but there was a two-year period there where we couldn't even win our league, we couldn't win our conference tournament. It was hard, not that it is that much different now but because we are in a different league, that part is not as hard but there are more good teams.

"If I sat here and said this is not as easy, keeping this going in that direction with the kinds of players you are getting today. Geraldine Saintilus (Smith, Seton Hall's all-time leading scorer) just did the game, she was one of the officials and she was playing at Seton Hall in one of my first years here and we were talking during the game about how much the game has changed. She said these guys are so good compared to back then, these players are so good compared to the mid-80s, late 80s, it is not even the same game."

It is an interesting situation for Auriemma. Part of him would love to see his team suffer the occasional loss especially if it were a result of a team rising up and just making more plays. The loss at Stanford last season was probably more valuable than any of the regular-season victories. But Auriemma knows he has created something that is simply not normal.

"It looks easy but it is not," Auriemma said. "I can't explain it but it is not. I wish it could be like back in the old days, just try to finish with four losses in the league and you are in first place. That was not bad, I kind of like that. Just try to win all of your home games, split on the road, those were normal days. You go .500 on the road now, people would kill themselves.

"If it was easy, we wouldn't be the ones to have the three longest streaks so obviously it is not that easy and the fact that we make it look that easy, I am not crazy about that because I think we diminish our own accomplishments if that makes any sense."

Milestone in reach for UConn's Big Three

Since arriving at UConn the trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have combined for more points (4,588) than any other three players over a four-year span. With one more assist they will own the mark in that department as well.

Here is the list (not including statistics from a fifth season of eligibility)

12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 4588

98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 4487
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 3930
00-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 3899*
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 3896
REBOUNDS98-02: Cash-Jones-Williams 2467
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 2104
02-06: Crockett-Strother-Turner 1994
00-04: Battle-Moore-Taurasi 1802*
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 1773
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  1769
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker 1750
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 1098

00-04: Battle-Conlon-Taurasi 1098*
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti 1032
98-02: Bird-Cash-Jones   954
10-14: Dolson-Hartley-Walker  952
98-02: Bird-Cash-Williams 578
92-96: Better-Elliott-Rizzotti  567
04-08: Houston-Swanier-Thomas 548
88-92: Baer-Davis-Pattyson 545
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 526
91-95: Dixon-Lobo-Webber 414
06-10: Charles-Gardler-McLaren 413
93-97: Berube-Rose-Wolters 404
11-15: Banks-KML-Stokes  389
12-16: Jefferson-Stewart-Tuck 381
*-does not include statistics for Battle and Moore during 2004-05 season

Challenging day at practice for UConn

When I walked into Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center for the part of yesterday's practice which is open to the media, the first thing I saw happened to be Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson standing off the court looking on. It didn't take long to realize that the Huskies' No. 2 and 3 scorers would not be practicing. One of my first thoughts was "well, this ought to be interesting."

Jefferson and Tuck are not only two of UConn's best players but its two most vocal as well. There are times when demanding UConn coach Geno Auriemma will pull the duo as well as Breanna Stewart to challenge the younger players to figure things out without the heart and soul of this year's squad there to show the way. Sure enough watching the defensive 4 on 4 drill take place wasn't pretty. When it came time to run offensive drills, Auriemma's irritation increased with each passing possession. Finally Gabby Williams had back to back scoring plays and practice finally came to an end when Napheesa Collier hit a driving layup.

"When you are down two seniors, two starters, you have to step it up," Stewart said. "Not just me but our entire team and that is what I told them before practice that we are down two people and we have to make sure we have step up and other people need to assume those roles."

While Auriemma said he is leaning towards Gabby Williams starting, no player could benefit from these next two weeks than a struggling Collier. A play like the one she had to end practice could give the talented freshman a confidence boost.

"You want to (make an) impact because that is where Coach has trust in us," Collier said. "We do things in practice the way we want to do them in games so we try to do things the right way in practice."

Collier made an almost immediate impact when the season began but recently had some struggles. Collier played a total 27 minutes against Houston (when UConn played without Tuck) and South Florida which matches the fewest minutes she has played in back to back games this season. She has shown signs of life in the last two games averaging 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.5 blocked shots. However, early in the season she seemed to make more of an impact than her statistics might indicate and in recent games, the numbers make it seem like she played better than she actually has. Yes, Collier has hit the dreaded freshman wall and these next couple of weeks could be a perfect time to get back to playing as aggressively as she was earlier in the season.
"I wish it happened in the beginning to get it over with but it is something you have to push through and hopefully I will get over it soon," Collier said. "I think it is a lot of mental and I just need to get my head right.

"I think (making up for Tuck's absence) it will help everyone because we will have a different mentality of going 110 percent now. I definitely plan to, I am not going out saying 'oh, I hope I suck today.' It is hard because a lot of people before college haven't gone through it so it is definitely a struggle but there is just an adjustment period."

Another player who could see a jump in minutes is sophomore center Natalie Butler. Yesterday was the first time since she injured her thumb in the preseason that Butler was playing without her left wrist, hand and thumb taped in order to hold a protective splint in place.

Butler said it was her first full practice without any protection on her thumb. I asked her if she stomped on the splint in celebration of being able to play without it and her answer was classic.
"Yesterday during practice I got frustrated because the ball kept bouncing off of it and I had a lot of tape so I ripped it off and just threw it, I was so mad so I kind of had that reaction of 'I am not playing with this thing.' I was cleared so I was allowed to do that. You have to get adjusted to it again because I have mobility with the splint, there was a splint underneath my tape so it was restricted, it is weird being able to catch the ball, it is weird being able to shoot left handed with motion and mobility so it is going to be an adjustment but I happy that it is finally off."

After practice I asked Auriemma about who challenging practice was without his two more vocal players and it led to this entertaining tangent.
"The actual vocal part of practice, that is slowly that has been disappearing for 100 years now," Auriemma said. "Kids today just don't grasp the value of it and some coaches don't believe in it and say 'non-verbal communication is more important.' I am sure it is but I don't like guys who don't talk on the court and today's players struggle.

"Let's face it, they (Jefferson and Tuck) know what is going on all the time so now you are asking players who have no idea what is going on and they already don't want to communicate, it is a struggle because those last five minutes of practice ...

"You know what you have to be today to be a really good coach in college basketball, you have to be a football coach coaching basketball and you have to change the rules - after every possession call timeout, we have 20 seconds or 30 seconds to snap the ball and we call another play. After that, you call a timeout, tell them how they were being guarded that last possession, tell them what adjustment to make and then we go out and do it. Then you call timeout and when the defense makes another adjustment, you tell them 'this is what we are going to run.' That is the way the game is going because kids are coming out of high school with less and less and less of an understanding of what they are seeing and it just takes longer."

I happened to notice that Collier's high school team (Incarnate Word Academy) defeated Morgan Tuck's former team (Bolingbrook) 61-39 in the MLK Showcase.

Thinking there might have been some playful banter between the two, I asked both Collier and Tuck about it. Tuck was unaware that the game actually took place but Collier did receive an update from one of the team's assistant coaches.

"I forgot to trash talk her, I was going to," Collier said with a laugh.

What's interesting is that the star of the victory was freshman Kiki Britzmann, who came into the game averaging 6.4 points per game but had a team-high 15 points and Britzmann happens to wear the No. 24 that Collier donned with such distinction in the previous three seasons.

"I knew she had it," Collier said. "I knew her before, she came to the camps and played with us."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

UConn's Morgan Tuck to sit for two weeks

Over the course of the season the UConn coaches and medical staff have tried the one day at a time approach to handle with any knee issues redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck may have been dealing. Finally it has come time to try a new approach.

Tuck, UConn's second-leading scorer, will miss the next two weeks with the hope that the rest will help her surgically-repaired right knee will feel better.

"We've been going back and forth, a day off and then practice, a day off and then practice, then play a game and two days off," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We are nickel and diming it so Rosemary (Ragle), Dr. (Robert) Arciero talked about it and just give it two weeks and see what it does with rest so she doesn't have to put up with this crap once and for all. We are going to give it a shot and see what happens.

"Nothing new, it is why she doesn't practice every day. It is like every day. She is tired of it and I don't blame her either, it get frustrating after a while so lets give it some rest and take a look at it.

Tuck had played all 39 games last season and the first 12 this season before she sat out the Jan. 8 game at Houston due to soreness in her knee. Now Tuck is expected to miss at least the next four games.

"You always get annoyed because you always want to play but this is a good time to be out for two weeks so I am glad it is now and not later on in the season,' Tuck said after Tuesday's practice.

"I can still be a leader on the this team. I can still use my voice as much as when I go out and did before, I am just not out there helping. I know how to still be a part of the team without playing, I have done it enough."

Tuck played 14 minutes, the fewest of any game she has appeared in this season, in Saturday's win over Temple. She met with UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle about the pain she has been experiencing.

"I'll do cardio every day, either swimming or bike so it is not pounding and still be involved with the team,' Tuck said. "It is not a specific thing you can do, it is more of letting it calm down a little bit
It depends on how it feels. It is like anything, you have to talk to Rosie, if you are in pain, you go to her and talk about it."

While there are plenty of people weighing in on her knee issues having a role in her decision whether to return to UConn for a fifth season of eligibility or declare for the WNBA draft, Tuck said that is not going to be the determining factor.

"I am not going to let that deter my decision, whatever I decide is what I really want to do so I don't want to make that decision based on a fear or how I think my knee will do because I don't know," Tuck said.

Moriah Jefferson also missed today's practice. Auriemma said she banged her head and her knee in a recent fall and he won't know if she will play until tomorrow's shootaround.

"She wasn't 100 percent today," Auriemma said. "She hit her head and she banged her knee so I think her head is telling her 'my knee hurt.' We'll see tomorrow at shootaround."

Auriemma said he is leaning towards Gabby Williams starting in Tuck's place against UCF tomorrow at the XL Center. Ironically, Williams left practice after falling awkwardly. Williams had UConn graduate assistant Jasmine Lister go across the hall to get Ragle who was working in the training room inside UConn's practice facility. Ragle went and retaped Williams' ankle which was a good sign because of Williams' previous knee issues. Williams came back into practice and within seconds, soared off the court to grab a rebound and she had a couple of impressive baskets in the lane late in practice.

Finally, Natalie Butler was playing without a splint or any tape on her thumb or wrist for the first time since she tore a ligament in her thumb. She said it was the first full practice she had since the injury without her thumb being taped.

UConn's Jefferson & Stewart candidates for Senior CLASS Award

UConn's Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart are both candidates for the Senior CLASS Award as is former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes.

Perhaps two players from the same team have been candidates for the award, which recognizes success on the court and in the classroom but I don't recall it happening very often.

Yale's Justin Sears is one of the candidates on the men's side.

The list of candidates will be cut to 10 next month with the winner being named at the Final Four.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

UConn signee Dangerfield to play in McDonald's All-American Game

The UConn women's basketball program impressive run of McDonald's All-American Game selection continued when Crystal Dangerfield was selected to play in the game on March 30 at the United Center in Chicago.

Since a girls game was added to the McDonald's schedule in 2002, there has been at least one UConn women's incoming freshman playing in the game except for 2013. Dangerfield will play for the East team.

Dangerfield, a senior guard at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has four 30-point games for 17-2 Blackman as a senior. She is averaging 23.4 points per game and has 31 3-pointers and currently has 1,900 career points. Dangerfield has led Blackman to 58 straight wins against Tennessee opponents. Since her sophomore season the Lady Blaze have an 83-5 record with two of the losses coming in games against teams featuring current UConn freshmen.

As a sophomore Dangerfield's Blackman team's only loss came to the Napheesa Collier-led Incarnate Word Academy squad in the Naples Holiday Shootaround while last season one of Blackman's two losses came in the Nike Tournament of Champions to a Mater Dei team led by Katie Lou Samuelson.

UConn men's commit Alterique Gilbert will be playing in the boys' McDonald's game.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

With assist from Stewart, UConn's Samuelson is playing pressure free

Coming to UConn as the reigning national high school player of the year is not as easy as it may seem.

Breanna Stewart learned that the hard way during her freshman season and when she saw the pressure starting to get to current freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, she decided it was time to act.

"When somebody is kind of getting in a little rut, you can tell," Stewart said. "They are not talking as much, being alone more than they were with the group. I was in that situation my freshman year. When I noticed that happening, I texted Lou and we talked about it and went out for dinner. I made
her feel better, made her feel like she is not the only one to go through this."

While Samuelson's impressive perimeter shooting was on display in the 104-49 win over Temple as she was 5 of 8 from 3-point range, it is her willingness to be a more physical and versatile player that is paying dividends as she not only set a career best with 21 points but also with six assists.

"She is 6-3 and she should be playing as much on the perimeter as she is inside," Stewart said. "She is starting to embrace the physicality because at this level it is obviously physical more than it was in high school. It is a change and she is getting used to that. A lot of the pressures that she is having, I had. We came out of high school and we were in similar situations and I think I am the only one who is able to relate to that."

Samuelson came to UConn with a reputation of being an incredible skilled offensive player but with the Huskies returning four starters from a national championship team, she was quick to defer to her older teammates. In the last couple of weeks she has been starting to look for her own shots at the proper time while contributing in other ways.

"Stewie's been a great help for me and I really appreciate how much she has helped me out," said Samuelson, who made her second start of the season but first when all of UConn's regular starters were available to play. "It keeps my confidence that she doesn't let me get down.

"I watch Stewie a lot and try to learn from her. She is a great player and has come out of her way to help me so I am going to do whatever I can to learn from her and appreciate this year I have for her because people can't get that opportunity. Seeing in practice, seeing how versatile she is, I am definitely going to try to be able to score in different ways and score in different ways."

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No sophomore slump for New Haven's Atkinson

Former Career High star Tanaya Atkinson was one of the better freshmen in the American Athletic Conference a season ago and the Temple guard is showing no signs of slowing down.

She is third on the Owls in scoring averaging 12.1 points per game. In conference play she is averaging 12.2 points a game, good for 15th among all AAC players. She is also 13th in the AAC in field-goal percentage (45.3).

I spoke with Temple coach Tonya Cardoza at AAC media day about Atkinson.

"(Her freshman season was) really good year for her, this year is going to be really good for her as well," Cardoza said. "There is more competition for her at practice now so that makes her go even harder. She is a special one and we are lucky to find her and get her. She is going to be key for us being successful this year."

Tonight's game will not be WTIC-1080 because of coverage of the New England Patriots so it will be broadcast on 96.5 FM.

Friday, January 15, 2016

UConn's Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck on Wooden Award midseason watch list

UConn's Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were among 20 players named to the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award.

Jefferson is third on the 15-0 Huskies in scoring averaging 13.4 points per game. She has team-high totals of 78 assists and 36 steals.

Stewart, the reigning Wooden Award winner, is averaging a team-best 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds and also leads the Huskies with 41  blocked shots.

Tuck contributes 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for UConn, winners of its last 52 games.

The winner will be honored as part of the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in April.

Here is the complete list of candidates
Jillian Alleyne 6-3 Sr. F Oregon
Ameryst Alston 5-9 Sr. G Ohio State
Rachel Banham 5-9 Sr. G Minnesota
Nia Coffey 6-1 Jr. F Northwestern
Nina Davis 5-11 Jr. F Baylor
Diamond DeShields 6-1 Soph. G Tennessee
Moriah Jefferson 5-7 Sr. G ConnecticutBrionna Jones 6-3 Jr. C Maryland
Kelsey Mitchell 5-8 Soph. G Ohio State
Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. G South Carolina
Kelsey Plum 5-8 Jr. G Washington
Aerial Powers 6-0 Jr. F Michigan State
Azurá Stevens 6-6 Soph. F/G Duke
Breanna Stewart 6-4 Sr. F Connecticut
Morgan Tuck 6-2 Jr. F Connecticut
Brianna Turner 6-3 Soph. F Notre Dame
Victoria Vivians 6-1 Soph. F Mississippi State
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 5-11 Jr. G Maryland
Courtney Williams 5-8 Sr. G South Florida
A’ja Wilson 6-5 Soph. F South Carolina

Thursday, January 14, 2016

UConn's Samuelson responding to Auriemma's prodding

If I've learned nothing else in the years I have covered the UConn women's basketball team, it is Geno Auriemma driving home the point that there's a huge difference between shooting well and playing well.

Katie Lou Samuelson, like fellow former Mater Dei High School and UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, has what Auriemma has referred to as a "get out of jail free" card with their ability to hit 3-pointers.

As Auriemma did with Mosqueda-Lewis, who would graduate as the NCAA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made, he has been pushing Samuelson to bring more to the table than just the ability to hit shots from the perimeter. Making a couple of shots is not going to be enough to satisfy a demanding coach like Auriemma and it's hard to watch Samuelson play, especially in last night's win, and not think she has gotten the message.

While she still has some growing to do on the court, I thought Samuelson's effort against Memphis was the best of her young collegiate career.

Against South Florida Samuelson attempted five shots before she had any other statistic whether it was a rebound, assist, steal or blocked shot. Wen she failed to close out on a 3-point shooter when USF came roaring back, she got an earful from Auriemma who instructed all the players on the court at the time not to give up uncontested 3-pointers. When she got into the game against Memphis Samuelson quickly grabbed a defensive rebound and on the ensuing possession, battled hard for an offensive rebound. The shots would come later as Samuelson finished with a pair of 3-pointers en route to scoring 11 points but when it came to her compete level, I thought this was a really good showing for her.

"Just going in and getting that rebound kind of gave me a bounce in my step and made me ready for the rest of the game," Samuelson said. "Instead of having a slow start where I did nothing, I got in there, got an offensive rebound. Whenever I come off the bench, that is what I need to do. I need to do something that is going to get my game going and I am not just relying on that first 3 that I am going to hit. I have noticed different ways that I have been able to get points, mostly if I focus on getting other people shots too the other ones come easier."

Auriemma said it is not a coincidence that Samuelson's shots have started to fall with more regularity as she contributes to UConn's success in other ways.

"She has been getting more aggressive every day," Auriemma said. "Her practices are getting better, she is doing more things and it is not unusual that the more things that you start doing that the more your shot starts dropping. She is doing so many different things right now that her confidence level is way higher than it was a month ago."

Auriemma certainly drove the point home to Samuelson during a Dec. 30 game at Cincinnati when he did not summon the reigning national high school player of the year off the bench until there was 1:48 to play in the third quarter. He wanted Samuelson to compete harder in practices and not just for stretches in practice.

Samuelson had a pretty good idea that messages like that would be coming when she decided to commit to UConn.
"I kind of expected it to be one of the hardest things I've done but just the consistency that I need to put myself into and my hard work, it definitely has been harder than anything I've done. I am kind of getting better at doing what they ask me to do. Recently with how hard I have been trying to push myself, it has made things easier not only during games but in practice."

Auriemma mentioned after the Memphis game that he was encouraged that the three road games in three different states did not become merely a showcase for Breanna Stewart but other players and in particular younger players stepped up in different ways.

"It has helped us a lot," Samuelson said. "We have gotten different kinds of games and a lot of playing time in each of them. I think the variety we have been through has really helped us as players and prepared us for what is going to come later.

"I think we have definitely grown, having these three games that close, everybody's going to be tired, everybody wants to go home and we knew coming into this game that we had to take care of business. Just being able to rely on each other knowing that everyone is going through the same thing that you are, you really want to do that and go as hard as you can for your teammates."

UConn incoming freshman Crystal Dangerfield is one of 25 girls' basketball players named to the midseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy.

Dangerfield, a senior guard at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is averaging 23.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.4 steals per game as a senior.

The national semifinalists will be announced on Feb. 10, the finalists on Feb. 24 while the winner will be announced on Mar. 10.

Another honor could be coming Dangerfield's way on Sunday as that is the day the 24 boys and girls players taking part in the McDonald's All-American Game will be announced. The squads will be revealed on the selection show airing on ESPNU from 10:30-11 p.m. It would be stunning turn of events for Dangerfield not be one of the 24 girls players selected to play in the Mar. 30 game at the United Center in Chicago.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

UConn's youngsters learn on the job during road trip

There have been some challenging road trips before for the UConn women's basketball team.

Back in 2000-01 season UConn went to Louisiana Tech and two games later had a game at Syracuse. Then there were games at Old Dominion and Wright State (in Dayton) on Dec. 29 and 31, 2001. The following season the Huskies played at NC State, five days later played three games in three days in Hawaii before having a game at Holy Cross less than a week later.

However, you would be hard pressed to find a stretch of games in a short amount of time where UConn did as much traveling and stayed in as many different hotels or had as many plane rides as the recently- completed road trip.

By my count, when the team arrives back on campus the UConn travel party would have traveled nearly 4,800 miles in a span of seven days.

"It is about growing up, it is about a certain maturity level that you need to be a good player to keep improving and be a part of a really mature team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Playing these games all over the place, different styles, different pace, I was happiest that it wasn't all Stewie (Breanna Stewart) all the time. We got a lot of contributions across the board and that really helps us moving forward. If you look at Gabby (Williams') contributions on this trip, it is huge for her confidence going forward. It was huge for Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) so every time we take the court we have an opportunity to grow up a little bit. Come March, teams that haven't grown up and are still playing girls' basketball instead of women's basketball, they are going to be knocked out."

Seven different UConn players had double-digit scoring games with Stewart the only Husky to score at least 10 points in each of the three games.

"It has been a long trip, we have been gone for a while so we had to stay mentally focused and we did a good job of keeping it in the back of our minds," said senior guard Moriah Jefferson, who led the Huskies with 42 points in the victories against Houston, South Florida and Memphis. "It helps a lot especially for the tournament, a lot of times in the tournament you are gone for a while and you are in different cities so it is good for us to get this experience in these different places. It is good for us to get this experience and for them to see how it is when you are on the road for so long."

There will be more on this tomorrow, but I think these three games may have benefited Samuelson more than any other player. Like so many freshmen before her, she has done more thinking than reacting in the early part of the season but on the road trip and especially in Wednesday's win at Memphis, she did a little bit of everything.

"I think we have definitely grown, having these three games that close everybody's going to be tired, everybody wants to go home and we knew coming into this game that we had to take care of business," Samuelson said. "Just being able to rely on each other knowing that everyone is going through the same thing that you are, you really want to do that and go as hard as you can for your teammates."

It will be another week and a half before UConn goes back on the road. Auriemma believes going home will work wonders for the players and coaches who couldn't help but to be together during trips to Houston, Tampa and Memphis. He joked that he is 61 years old, his players are 20 and he doesn't need to make friends with 20 year olds as much as the 20 year olds don't need to make friends with 61 year olds.

"I played golf Monday and they went to Busch Gardens so back in the day I might have gone with them," Auriemma said.
The news that the Big 12 Conference has reached a compromise so it would not have to add more teams in order to hold a conference championship game in football made plenty of headlines today especially in areas like at UConn where fans were hoping to get an invitation from a Power 5 conference.

Auriemma was asked for his take on things especially since the Huskies will go nearly a month between facing ranked opponents.

"I don't feel any different today than I did yesterday or the day before or I will feel tomorrow," Auriemma said. "That situation is what it is, it is out of my hands. I love the people who comment that it is the AD's responsibility to get into a new conference; it is the president's responsibility to get into a new conference. It is like saying 'why didn't you get invited to the Oscar's what is wrong with you?' Well, how about 'I don't have a ticket and nobody wants me to go there.'

"I have always operated that I want to be really good where I am and what I am going. That is going to take me a lot me a lot of places and so far it has worked. I don't concern my what might happen in the future."

UConn looks to add to conference winning streak

There's been plenty of discussion surrounding UConn's winning streaks. The Huskies go after their 52nd win a row tonight against Memphis which currently the fourth longest streak in NCAA Division I women's basketball history (two behind Louisiana Tech's 54 straight from 1980-82).

The Huskies have also won 46 consecutive American Athletic Conference games which is the second longest active streak behind Chattanooga's 59 straight (going into today game against Western Carolina). This also happens to be one of the few winning streak records not owned by the Huskies. Texas won 143 games in the Southwest Conference from 1981-90. UConn has the fifth longest conference winning streak of 68 during their Big East days (it is from 2008-11) and also won 53 straight Big East games from 1996-98 (although for some reason that run of victories is not in the NCAA record book).

Barring a monumental upset, UConn could moved into a tie for 10th place with its 53rd consecutive conference win in the Feb. 3 game at Tulane.

Here are the longest conference winning streaks (including conference tournaments) according to the NCAA record book.

143 Texas, Southwest Dec. 9, 1981-Feb. 23, 1990
115 Old Dominion, Colonial Feb. 23, 1995-Feb. 18, 2001
81 Stanford, Pac-12 Jan. 22, 2009-Jan. 6, 2013
77 Louisiana Tech, Sun Belt/WAC 1998-02
68 UConn, Big East Feb. 9, 2008-March 27, 201159 Chattanooga, Southern Jan. 12, 2013-active (59 game vs. Western Carolina tonight)
57 Liberty, Big South Jan. 24, 2002-Feb. 21, 2005
53 UConn, Big East Jan. 4, 1996-Feb. 7, 199853 Baylor, Big 12 Feb. 23, 2011-Jan. 11, 2014
53 Hampton, MEAC Jan. 30, 2012-Jan. 19, 2015
51 Duke, Atlantic Coast Feb. 22, 2001-Feb. 2, 2004
49 Coppin St., Mid-Eastern Feb. 14, 2005-March 9, 2007
Tonight wraps up a three-game road trip and perhaps the most noteworthy thing to come out of the first two games is UConn actually trailing longer than it led in the first quarter in wins at Houston and South Florida.

In the first 12 games of the season the Huskies trailed for a grand total of 5:49 in the first quarter with 3:59 coming in the Nebraska game. In the last two games, the Huskies trailed  Houston for 6:58 in the first quarter and was down to USF for South Florida for nearly 7 1/2 minutes.

A couple of other things I thought was worth mentioning:

Memphis sophomore forward Cheyenne Creighton was a key member of the Blessed Pope John Paul II Secondary School team which lost to UConn's Kia Nurse St. Thomas More team in the championship game of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association 4A title game in 2013.

Nurse tied her season high with 16 points the last time out against South Florida while Creighton is shooting 72 percent from the field in Memphis' last five games.

Breanna Stewart is currently tied with former teammate Kiah Stokes for third place on UConn's career list with 325 blocked shots. Moriah Jefferson needs two assists to move by Laura Lishness and into eight on the career charts in that category and with three steals, she would move by Kelly Faris for the fifth spot.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A sense of what could have been for UConn

While there's no way of knowing how the 2014-15 season would have played out had UConn been able to close out the game against Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014.

The Huskies lead by six points with less than two minutes to play before Amber Orrange scored seven points in the final 26 seconds of the second half including the game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds to go. Stanford would emerge with the thrilling overtime victory to snap the Huskies' 47-game winning streak. All UConn did was win the final 37 games that season and head into tomorrow's Memphis game with a 14-0 record. Yes, that makes UConn 98-1 over its last 99 games so had things happened a little differently, the Huskies could be going for win No. 100 in a row.

"I just mentioned that to somebody that the other day that the happiest person in the world after the fact that we lost that game was me," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Somewhere along the line we would have lost again, no question about that, but it did enter my mind. We have talked about (junior guard) Saniya Chong being 90-1 or whatever it is and the only game we lost is when she started (against Stanford). It is frightening."

For the record, UConn is 92-1 since Chong arrived as the lone recruit in the summer of 2014.
"That is a big number." said sophomore guard Kia Nurse, who has a 52-1 record since her arrival including a 50-0 record when she is in the starting lineup. "Obviously we didn't want that lose but we did learn from it and we got better. One hundred, wow that would be really cool. It is pretty impressive what the program has done over the years. People have come before us and they kind of set the slate to understand what it takes to be able to play here."

UConn owns the top Division I women's basketball winning streaks during the NCAA era with 90 (from 2008-11) and 70 straight wins, set from 2001-03, while Louisiana Tech won 54 straight from 1980-82. It should be noted that before the NCAA era that Wayland Baptist won 131 straight games from 1954-58.

Speaking of winning streaks, UConn goes for its 47th straight American Athletic Conference win when the conference tournament is factored in. It is the third longest in program history as the Huskies won 68 and 53 straight leagues while a member of the Big East. With six more AAC wins in a row, the Huskies would move into a tie for 10th place for most consecutive conference wins. Texas holds the record with 143 straight Southwest Conference wins from 1981-1990.

SNY documentary on UConn's '94-95 team to air tomorrow

A project more than a year in the making will be on display when SNY unveils its documentary on the iconic 1994-95 national championship team tomorrow night from 8:30-9:30 p.m. after the Memphis game and postgame wrap.

They had a screening of the show for media and UConn officials before the recent game against Tulsa and I have to say I was pretty impressed. Pretty much every player from that squad, which won the first of 10 national titles. was interviewed along with coaches, media members.

From painting the picture of the personalities of the team from the highly sought after media sensation Rebecca Lobo, who her teammates and coaches admitted was pulled in so many different directions following the program-changing win over top-ranked Tennessee to the fiery in your face leadership provided by Jamelle Elliott and Jen Rizzotti to Nykesha Sales garnered the nickname "precious" as a freshman as the veteran players viewed her as being something of a teacher's pet in the eyes of Auriemma, SNY capitalized on the exclusive access to offer a more comprehensive look on the squad that forever changed the fortunes of one of the most dominant program in college athletics.

Perhaps the real star of the documentary is Auriemma's wife Kathy who stole the show with her retelling of her husband's reaction after that history win over Tennessee would vault the Huskies to No. 1 in the national polls for the first time and her recollections of how pivotal Geno considered landing Lobo was in his master plan.

I would strongly recommend checking it out.

Monday, January 11, 2016

UConn struggles to slow down USF's Williams again

My curiosity got the better of me.

During last night's game I tweeted that South Florida's Courtney Williams posted her fourth career 20-point game against UConn. I figured that the last time it happened, it was probably done by a Notre Dame player and I was correct.

Skylar Diggins actually had five 20-point scoring games against UConn while Natalie Novosel accomplished the feat four times. Williams is averaging 22.8 points in her last five games against UConn.

The Huskies certainly made Williams work as it took 25 shots for her to get the 26 points she scored last night. Pretty much every UConn player had their chance to guard Williams and watching live, Gabby Williams (no relation) seemed to be the most effective defender against the USF star. I joked to the other beat writers at the game that I would pay money to see a decathlon or heptathlon competition between UConn's Williams, who finished fifth in the high jump at the 2012 Olympic trials, and USF's Williams who also has an incredible vertical leap.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that Williams is as difficult to guard as any player his team has played this season. Historically the Huskies have been effective containing the other team's top offensive option. Notre Dame (whether it was Diggins, Novosel, Kayla McBride or Jewell Loyd) did seem to be able to get shots for the players it wanted to get shots and the story is the same for Williams who has taken between 22-26 shots in the last five games against UConn.

"The outside shot was obviously on display and she does a really good job of stopping on a dime so you kind of have to stay in your stance and keep her guessing on what you are doing but at the same time you are trying to keep her in front of you so it is always a bit of a difficult task,"

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse said. There was one stretch when the 6-foot-4 Breanna Stewart was chasing Williams around and Stewart's length did make things challenging for Williams - for a while.

"That is when your competitive nature really starts flaring," Stewart said. "She is a great player and she can get her shot off quickly. You want to make her do things that she is not so good at which isn't a lot." Williams has at least one and as many as three games left against UConn so perhaps she will match Diggins' total of five 20-point games or even surpass that total.

There have been some pretty gaudy numbers associated with the UConn women's basketball program in recent years. The Huskies have the three of the four longest winning streaks in NCAA history and before the end of the month could have the top three marks. There was another number coming out of last night's win over USF that I didn't pick up on at the time. It was the 50th start for sophomore guard Kia Nurse and UConn's record in those games is 50-0.

It's not the first time this has happened as Tiffany Hayes started 54 games in her freshman and sophomore seasons as the Huskies posted back to back undefeated seasons but it is still rather impressive.

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UConn found its offensive rhythm at perfect time

Part of the monster that Geno Auriemma has created is that after his UConn women's basketball team goes on the road and beats a ranked team by 16 points, invariably he has to answer questions about what went wrong.

I am certainly guilty as charged and my first question to Auriemma after Sunday's 75-59 win over South Florida was about how much better offensive flow and shot selection there was after South Florida had pulled within a point with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter.

UConn had seven stretches when it missed at least two shots in a row including six straight misses to allow USF to come roaring back.

When Breanna Stewart misfired on a 3-point attempt, UConn was just 15 for 41 from the field which is 36.6 percent. As a point of reference, UConn's season low for field-goal percentage in a game is 46.3 percent against LSU. As if the players realized that it was there time to settle down and play the way they know they can, the Huskies were 14 for 22 (63.6 percent) until missing the final two shots of the game. Even more impressive was the fact that the Huskies were 8 of 11 from 3-point range during that stretch,

"We are always in a Catch-22 situation," Auriemma said. "If we run up and down the floor, take the first open shot we get and they all go in, they all go 'man, this offense is unstoppable, you guys are unbelievable.' Then we come out, we don't make them and you go 'man, these guys are rushing. Why are they shooting the ball so early in the possession?'

"I kind of let some of it go but there were times where I thought we didn't keep them on defense long enough, not because we might get an open layup because the way they played tonight they had four guys in the lane so there is no throwing the ball in the lane but I wanted us to keep them on defense because they are not easy to play against so why should we run back and play defense if we are only spending five seconds on offense. Once we got control of that, I thought the game kind of settled into a pace that was good for us."

Perhaps most astonishing of all is that during that stretch reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart did not attempt a shot. Of course, Stewart did sit for nearly 3 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter after picking up her fourth foul.

"In those moments we know we need to score right there, we need to execute and when that happens, it makes it a little more of a pressure  situation that is when we play pretty well," Morgan Tuck said. "It took us a little bit to get there in the first quarter (UConn missed nine of its first 11 shots) but we definitely got there."

Kia Nurse led the way going 4 for 6 including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Tuck and Moriah Jefferson were both 3 of 5, Katie Lou Samuelson was 2 of 3, Gabby Williams 1 of 2 and Napheesa Collier made her only attempted shot.

Nurse, who came into the game shooting 31 percent from 3-point range and was 1 of 9 on 3s in the last two games was rather pleased to see those three treys find the mark.

"It was good to see a couple of them go in. I definitely haven't been shooting as consistently as I would have liked to," Nurse said. "But to see a couple of them go in and just step into it with confidence, it is the best way to go out."

Nurse has tried not to let her inconsistent perimeter shooting impact the other areas of her game.

"I think it is more about trying to impact that game in other ways other than scoring," Nurse said. "I usually focus a lot defensively because I usually have a defensive matchup I have to deal with and not being afraid to shoot the next open 3, staying with it and try to make sure I knock down the next one."

It hasn't been the easiest of tasks getting results of how UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter has been playing in her junior season at Blair Academy.

However, I can report that Espinoza-Hunter had three 3-pointers and 23 points in Blair Academy's 46-40 win over Paterson Kennedy at the New Jersey Sparks tournament on Sunday.